Begin with Scriptures for interfaith dialogue
By Michael Swan
TORONTO (CCN) — Faith is a difficult subject to bring up with our children, our own flesh and blood. How many of us would endure earnest talk of faith from friends? A combination of courage and psychopathology is necessary before most Christians can talk about faith with strangers. So, what chance does interfaith dialogue really have?
“The most basic approach is to go to each others’ Scriptures,” he
told The Catholic Register. “If we’re to understand what
each other aspires to be, the place to begin is each others’ Scriptures.”
That’s the premise behind Three Testaments: Torah,
Gospel and Quran. Brown has assembled Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars
to introduce modern, readable translations of the three texts. The scholars
explain how the holy books of each community are used and understood
within the faith they represent.
In the 21st century the three Abrahamic faiths do not occupy separate
patches of the globe, or even separate social spheres. The three major
faiths of the West rub shoulders daily, and we have the wars to prove
it. For Brown, getting past the dialogue of caricatures, suspicion, fear
and resentment is a matter of life and death.
“It’s an antidote to the burning of the Quran,” he
It’s not just terror attacks in far-off capitals,
or sick minds blowing up cars and shooting up theatres, that has Brown
concerned. Ordinary Christians, Muslims and Jews have all been touched
by the toxic stew of interfaith ranting, slander and innuendo.
“I had a person tell me they were a little afraid to go to the
hospital in Niagara Falls because most of the doctors are Muslim. These
are good, sensible Christian people who are influenced by those bomb
makers and now need to hear from the Scripture authorities,” he
said. “Eighty per cent of Christians — and I’m guessing
80 per cent of Muslims and Jews — are so negatively impacted by
the bombers and bloggers that good, proper-thinking Christian people
getting emails that are cockeyed develop strange notions about their
Muslim neighbours or their Jewish neighbours.”
David Bruce, a United Church minister for 25 years who
is now the lay Catholic director of The Good Neighbours’ Club for homeless men
in Toronto, introduces the Gospel in Three Testaments. With doctorates
from California’s Fuller Theological Seminary and Toronto’s
University of St. Michael’s College, Bruce believes the Three Testaments
approach works because it’s based on solid scholarship and aimed
at ordinary, intelligent readers.
“Anybody who picks up a National Geographic and enjoys the articles
should be able to enjoy Three Testaments,” he said.
It’s also successful because the book isn’t
trying to cram three different religions into a single test tube of kind
and fluffy thoughts.
“There’s an increasingly large proportion of western Christianity
that says there really isn’t any difference in the world religions
if you boil it all down,” said Bruce. “We’re not saying
that. We’re saying that there are real differences but that doesn’t
mean we can’t stand side by side and listen to one another.”
The book is meant to be read by people of faith. It’s not an outsider’s
sociological analysis of religion as a curious phenomenon among certain
classes of people.
“All of this is written by believers to believers of other faiths,” said
“Scriptures are abused and can be made to say things. This project
is a joint project of Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars to run counter
to that, to say, ‘Let the Scriptures speak for themselves.’ ”
The book is as much a cause as it is literature. Brown
wants it read in seminaries and on university campuses. The book launch
will take place in seven cities, beginning at Ground Zero in New York.
New York launch events include a Sept. 9 interfaith rally in St. Peter’s Church
next door to Ground Zero. In Washington Sept. 10-12 during the thick
of the presidential campaign the Three Testaments launch at the Canadian
Embassy will feature ambassadors, religious leaders and Amir Hussain,
editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion who wrote the
foreword to Three Testaments. In Dallas-Fort Worth Sept. 12-13 the book
will be presented to the George W. Bush Presidential Library. In Los
Angeles Sept. 14-15 the launch brings together Christians, Jews and Muslims
for Temple Beth Am’s Shabbat service. The Jesuit University of
San Fransisco host the Abrahamic faiths for an event Sept. 16-18. Kazi
Publications, the most important Muslim publisher in America, hosts the
Chicago launch Sept. 19-20. Toronto gets its turn Sept. 23-30 at the
Royal Ontario Museum.
The book also has something to say to people who dismiss religious thinking
or think religious people incapable of solving religious conflict, said
“There is a stereotype out there that anybody who is actually committed to one of the three great western faiths has somehow parked at least a section of their brains — they’ve put it in neutral. That’s just not the case,” he said. “In fact, the best scholarship in all three religions is by those who actually practise the faith. . . . It’s important for the three Abrahamic religions to hear each other on their own terms. When you bring them so close together in a single volume, they don’t really have any choice.”